Oh, the humanity!
Having not a healthy, nurturing model to draw upon from my own childhood, I was always reluctant to start a family of my own. I had always sensed I would make a lousy parent and that for the good of all I should refrain from having children.
If you’d rather skip the context of my history, please skip forward to the section below, titled “NUGGETS”.
True story – a little over a month after Steve and I got married, we moved to Rapid City, South Dakota, where I’d longed to live for over half my life. Over the course of the next three years, we made great friends and enjoyed a vibrant, eclectic social life. I had finally secured the job I’d dreamt of for years – I was an Art Director at an Ad Agency. Very glamorous and fancy, indeed. Super posh, artsy office, great clients, co-workers and the best boss ever.
Late one Saturday night during a blizzard, I was alone, sitting in my posh, artsy office working on a campaign for a client and felt a wave of discontent come over me. The glamour, salary, and poshness weren’t enough. I thought that’s what I wanted, yet upon arriving at my goal I found it to be soul-crushingly disappointing. The disappointment quickly turned to panic; this was all I knew how to do, it’s what my education and my life’s experience had prepared me for.
Sitting right there at my cool desk, I looked up at the ceiling and said, “if there is anything out there, show me the purpose of my life”. I don’t even know where those words came from.
One month later, with only one fallopian tube, I was pregnant.
I knew instantly that this was the response to my late-night-blizzard inquiry. There could be no other possible explanation why this was happening now, after not doing anything differently during the preceding 3+ years. Like it or not, this was the purpose of my life.
At that moment, EVERYTHING changed. I had been on anti-anxiety medications for 10 years. I quit them cold turkey (I DO NOT recommend this). My cool job? It lasted about two months and then my depression and mood swings became so erratic that I could no longer function in the work environment, and I was let go. My vibrant social life came to a screeching halt, as I didn’t want to be around people who were partying and having fun. I began taking freelance design jobs from miscellaneous organizations. Mostly though, I cried, slept, threw heavy things at my husband…and read every parenting book I could get my hands on. Hell or high water, I was on a mission to make myself into a suitable mother.
That’s how our family began.
Since the beginning I’ve felt the tug of war inside me. “Do we start planning for college now? Do we crack the whip and make sure they achieve, achieve, ACHIEVE? How do we have a baby?
My maternal instinct kicked in immediately. I don’t know how, but I knew from the get go that we were birthing naturally and non-invasively, using a midwife, nursing, and playing music to the fetus by putting headphones around my expanding belly.
I spoke to the baby and told it how afraid I was to let it down; to ruin its life. I explained about how its maternal grandparents were really nice, but batshit crazy. I read to it. Steve read to it. I ate all the right stuff, kept out all the bad stuff. And, I read, and read, and read, and read.
By the end of the pregnancy, I knew everything. Or so I thought. I would soon learn that implementing all that cool stuff I read about was going to be a whole different ballgame.
Nolan came to join us at the end of September, just six days before his dad’s birthday. Due to a complication at birth, he needed help breathing in the NICU for the first 5 days of his life. I felt like that was the Universe saying, “You’re lucky to have this baby, but in case of any doubt, let’s see if you know how lucky you are!” That five days, pumping milk, staying at a hotel, up every two hours and back to the hospital to feed… that galvanized me. If there was any doubt, it was surely gone by the time we brought our little bundle home.
I read about attachment parenting. It made perfect sense to me. We never had a crib – both of our sons slept with us until they were 9 or 10 years old. I liked this idea because it created a sweet, soft nest for us to land in, ending each day by snuggling together no matter how bumpy the day might’ve been.
As I went along, we learned who we were as parents. Like many contexts in our lives we learned by process of elimination – “No, not that!”- as much as what felt good and right.
We’re not the over zealous type. Not the religious type. Not the neglectful type. Turns out, we liked being the intuitive type – being with what arose in the moment.
While we lived in South Dakota, that was easy. I was isolated and didn’t know other new moms. I had a few friends with much older children, so I made it up as I went along.
When Nolan was 9 months old we moved back to suburban Chicago. It was then I realized that there was a whole bunch of have-to’s and hoops to jump through if my kid was going to be able to keep up with the Jones’ kids. Not that I cared so much about the Jones’, but I did not want my new son to be at a disadvantage. I thought I’d better pay attention to the trends if I didn’t want my son to be left spinning like a top, in the dust.
Since that time I’ve felt the tug-of-war inside me. Intuitively, my instincts direct me one way, and the current of popular parenting philosophy, the opposite. I attribute my lack of confidence in following my own instincts to this dichotomy, and the fear of putting my children at a disadvantage.
I have not raised these children by myself. Their dad and I are married and co-parent them. I want to distinguish that this is my story, as my husband does not fight the internal battles that I do. To his credit, he is unshakable in his confidence to “Be Here Now”. He flows with each moment, and I have often mistaken that for lack of attentiveness. I want to make that distinction before continuing.
We had a second son when Nolan was three years old. I’ve spent the last 17 years second guessing myself, back and forth between hounding our boys to do their work, clean their rooms, asking who they’re with, about their grades and effort, all while losing sight of the forest through the trees.
Feeling on the verge of utter madness, while talking to a friend, she recommended a book to me called “How To Raise An Adult – Break Free of the Over Parenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid For Success”, by Julie Lythcott-Haims.
What’s fascinating is that Julie Lythcott-Haims is a former Dean at Stanford University. In this book she discusses in depth, the disservice we do to our beloved children by over-parenting them, taking on too many of their responsibilities, subsequently eroding their autonomy and confidence in taking risks. She also discusses the brokenness of the college admission process. While I have gleaned much wisdom from this book so far, perhaps the greatest nugget of all is that my maternal instinct is right on the money, and less exciting to admit, my husband has been (mostly) right all along.
I have often judged his easygoing nature as negligent or laissez-faire. After some consideration, I can see that it also serves as trusting these boys to lean into their own instincts and intuition. That is what I’ve preached all along, while intermittently allowing myself to get swept up in the madness of harping on them which only served to drive a wedge between us.
(Heavy sigh…) This parenting business is NOT for sissies!
According to Vanderbilt University’s department of Developmental Psychology, in psychology today, there are four major recognized parenting styles: authoritative, neglectful, permissive, and authoritarian. Please click the link to learn about the traits of each, and possibly things you didn’t know about your parenting style. In doing this myself, I discovered that like many of us, I’m a combination of all of them.
What I know for sure is that harping, nagging, second guessing and enabling are not helpful behaviors for kids, or for parents. I believe we all come here with innate knowing that helps us get through our own lives, as well as parenting our children. No book, doctor, or in-law can tell us more than we already know. Our job is to lean into our own knowing and don’t be afraid to trust that we know what is best for our children. Sometimes, our knowing directs us to seek the help of a professional. Regardless of what your knowing is telling you, by paying attention to how it feels, you’ll know if it feels right, or wrong. That is a wonderful, rich place to start!
And remember, we’re not meant to do this alone. It really does take a village. No one person has all the answers. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. By doing so, not only are you opening a door to receive help, but you’re also setting a powerful example for your young ones. After all, they do what we do much more than do what we say.
Due to the sheer vastness of this topic, I would love to hear your nuggets. Please share in the comments below!